Retail companies in Hong Kong have been closing their stores, laying off staff, and requiring remaining personnel to take unpaid leave in desperate measures to stem their losses after months of social unrest sent the sector into the red.
In a statement released yesterday, the Hong Kong Retail Management Association revealed that almost none of the city’s resident retailers have come through 2019 unscathed, according to the findings of a survey conducted between October and November. 97 percent of the responding companies reported losses, while 55 percent added that the losses were severe. SMEs were even harder hit, with 61 percent reporting severe losses. Many intend to continue reducing the number of stores they operate.
The association’s collated statistics on retail sales showed negative numbers for the entire year from February onwards, reflecting the impact that the protests and blockades have had on the sector.
The impact on employment will be just as drastic. The Hong Kong retail sector employs some 270,000 workers, and the association estimates that 5,600 will lose their jobs in the next six months if conditions do not improve in the next six months--unlikely after the massive rally on Sunday.
“The wave of layoffs and store shutdowns could be the worst in recorded history,” said Annie Yau-Tse, chair of the retail management association, calling on banks and landlords to ease their credit and rental terms. Exorbitant rentals are the biggest cost for retailers, followed by salaries, but where companies can lay off their staff with short notice, it is not so easy to break a rental agreement.
The store shutdowns and layoffs are not confined to Hong Kong, with companies pulling back from overseas markets such as Singapore and Macau in recent months.